Tuesday, 29 March 2011

THE KILLING REACHES THE END OF THE BBC 4 LINE:

In the end, The Killing turned out to be a victim of its own success, and to a lesser extent, its own newly-found hype, as it leapt from the ghetto of BBC4 to mainstream attention (though most of the MSM seemed to be incapable of getting past the same tired points--yes the sweater is an unlikely fashion icon, and at £280 in London, it's unlikely to ever be one here!).

The problem for episode 20 was that the strength of the show was the slow build, the careful distribution of red herrings, and most importantly the combination of political intrigue behind the scenes on one hand, and the breakdown of families and relationships as a result of the crime on the other. But in episode 20, the show had to revert to what, at heart, it was...a whodunit, and reveal who did it, and why, and thus risk tearing down much of the latticework of plot and character that had been developed so carefully.

Because the revelation that Vagn, an almost too-obvious suspect for most of the programme, was indeed the killer raised far more questions than it answered. The most basic one being was he an incredibly clever serial killer, as Sara's boyfriend Bengt suggested (and she conveniently ignored for far too long) --as you would expect from someone who could kill a cop, hang a fellow mover in a Russia coaster's cabin, and indeed leave no DNA traces anywhere while murdering Nanna--or was he someone who simply killed Nanna out of misplaced family loyalty and surrender to an impulse? Unless you believe that his use of Theis for self-destruction was actually part of that fiendishly clever guy.

Similarly, a political subplot which sees civil servants murdered, evidence withheld or destroyed, policewomen stalked, and one party leader killed provides us with few answers. Who was calling the shots to keep Lund's investigation contained? Who was keeping her under watch? We are left to conclude that this is the way business is handled; Brix's exhortations to her not to pursue the ivestigation further (persumably lest she discover Vagn was a major-league serial killer and thus embarrass the police even further) are just business as usual. This is effective, if possibly far too subtly done to register with most of the audience.

These two strands comes together in the question of the car in which Nanna was found. It seemed to yoyo back and forth between people who kept spotting it and finding the keys in the ignition, as if it were a Copenhagen version of a Boris bike, but assuming Vagn found the keys and from them the car, how he managed to leave no traces is beyond me. Similarly, the chain which was found on Nanna: where did it come from? Was it a momento of his first killing? Why didn't Vagn find it? Was it something he gave Hanna when she was younger? Why didn't he find her passport? How did he know where to find the incriminating photo of him with Mette, and why didn't he remove it earlier? The story reveals itself to turn on the most improbably creaky coincidences, clues disappear (remember the ether which was used to drug Nanna?), and we have to hope that Vagn was wearing a mask when he shot Mayer, because if he wasn't it would have been a lot easier for Mayer to croak 'Vagn' than 'Sara 84' as a clue to his killer's identity.

This is what happens when a taut drama turns into an Agatha Christie novel, if only in episode 19. Otherwise, the twin engines driving the show stayed on course throughout. Was Troels a 'different' sort of politician, or was he corrupt, or better, could he be corrupted as Bremer said he would be? And could Sara Lund remain fixated on the killing, and ignore the rest of her life crumbling around her. The more obsessive she became, the more she alienated her boyfriend, her son, her horrible mother, the more popular she became, and she was true to herself in the end.

In fact, one of the most fascinating things about The Killing is the way in which each of the three main female characters is so self-contained. Sara's obsession with solving the crime subsumes all her relationships. Rie appears to believe she can mold Troels in the image she wants (of her politician father, perhaps) and doesn't credit him with either emotions (a weakness) or lack of them (a strength). And Pernille, sometimes Lady Macbeth, sometimes sphinx, fails to communicate her grief to Theis, thus initially prompting revenge and i the end being unable to stop Vagn from getting Theis' revenge. All three women, operating from their own motives, lose their relationships.

And in the end, that's what the show was about, and in that sense the English mis-translation of the title into The Killing may actually be better than 'The Crime', which is the literal translation from Danish. Because the point of the show is that the crime actually kills far more than just Nanna: it kills Lund's relationships, it kills Theis' family, and it kills Troels' relationship with Rie. That is really what the show was about, and it was presented with great precision--not only the way in which it was shot, but the way characters' make up changed from episode to episode to reveal their many sides, and of course in the way the series allowed actors to really work their roles. Apparently, BBC4 paid only $1,000 per episode for this excellence...one imagines series two of the show is going to cost them far more. And maybe Rie makes her comeback. I miss the show already...

2 comments :

Anonymous said...

A great synopsis and review but the character is Nanna Birk Larsen not Hanna.

Michael Carlson said...

Of course it is! Esp as I've been reading my son Norse myths and Nanna's up there in Asgard too...mustve been tired when I was typing..